Saturday, February 20, 2021

XFINITY: Fluid leak after early spin ends Natalie Decker’s XFINITY Series debut


Natalie Decker
picked up the 1st last-place finish for her NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Super Start Batteries 188 presented by O’Reilly at the Daytona Infield Road Course when her #23 Red Street Records Chevrolet fell out with crash after 3 of 56 laps.

The finish came in Decker’s series debut. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 12th for the #23, the 341st from a crash, and the 563rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 66th for the #23, the 1,239th from a crash, and the 1,763rd for Chevrolet.

Last year at Daytona, Decker scored her first-ever top-five finish, finishing 5th for Niece Motorsports. It was a huge moment for Decker, who prior to that had finished no better than 13th, and had been fighting rheumatoid arthritis since birth. It was during this partial season for Niece that Decker missed a race for medical reasons for a second-straight season. While set to start last September at Las Vegas, she was not medically cleared to take the green due to high blood pressure. With no driver able to fit in her seat, the entry was pushed behind the wall. She returned to action just one month later at Texas. 

Decker’s ride for Daytona – her first of 2021, and first in the XFINITY Series - was a combined effort between RSS Racing and Reaume Brothers Racing. In 2020, Myatt Snider split time between RSS’ #93 – teamed with Ryan Sieg’s flagship #39 - and Richard Childress Racing’s #21. After Snider’s last start with RSS at Texas, Josh Reaume became a partner in the #93 for the season’s last two races. Reaume himself finished last with the car in the fall race at Martinsville, followed by C.J. McLaughlin at Phoenix.

With RSS Racing’s manufacturer change in 2021 from Chevrolet to Ford, the team also changed the #93 team’s number to the #23, but kept the partnership with Reaume. While Sieg remained in the #39 Ford, which was eliminated by an oil leak, Jason White finished a strong 10th in the #23. For the road course, the #23 would be a Chevrolet with Reaume-styled numbers on the doors and roof. The white car carried a hood logo for musician Jason Crabb’s album “Just As I Am” from Red Street Records, plus a TV panel sponsor in Bigfoot Philly Cheese Steaks. N29 Technologies, her Truck Series backer, had small logos in front of the rear tires.

Thanks to Jason White’s strong run in the opener, Decker secured the 21st starting spot based on metric qualifying. When the starting lineup was posted, however, the car only showed “TBA” in the driver’s spot, even though Decker posted a February 13 video of her driver announcement. Four teams withdrew due to the lack of qualifying: Our Motorsports’ second car, the #03, Jordan Anderson Racing’s #31, Bassett Racing’s #77, and DGM Racing’s fourth car, the #91. Preston Pardus and Andy Lally, slated to run the #91 and #03 respectively, both picked up other rides to start the race.

Rolling off 40th and last as another “TBA” entry, the #13 Toyota from Motorsports Business Management. David Starr and his sponsor Whataburger came on board by race day. As his Supra rolled off pit road, however, one starter’s car was being pushed to his pit stall. This was 26th-place Noah Gragson, whose #9 Bass Pro Shops TrueTimber / BRCC Chevrolet had fired, then cut off again after the command. The crew set to work changing the ignition box, and had to take off the air filter to do so. They ended up missing the start of the race.

Back on the track, two drivers dropped to the rear to join Starr – 5th-place Daniel Hemric in the #18 Poppy Bank Toyota and 10th-place Matt Mills in the #5 Thompson Electric Chevrolet. Both soon passed Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose #0 Forever Lawn Chevrolet ran off course during the first lap and ripped the front splitter from his car. As Earnhardt came down pit road on Lap 2, Gragson’s engine fired, and he returned to the track just in front of race leader Austin Cindric. On Lap 3, Cindric passed Gragson to put him a second lap down. Earnhardt returned to the track and cleared the “Crash Clock,” though one lap down. This meant Earnhardt and not Gragson would take the Lucky Dog when the first caution fell a moment later.

That caution fell after Decker was involved in an incident in the frontstretch chicane. Entering the turn to complete Lap 2, she tangled with Mills, who was working his way up from the back of the field when he hit Decker in the left-rear. Decker pulled a full 360 and slid over one of the “turtles,” which damaged the underside of her car. She started to leak fluid from the right-rear in the tri-oval – perhaps rear gear fluid – which drew the caution. She was then told by NASCAR to stop at the exit of pit road. She backed up to her pit stall, but the crew told her to go back to the truck instead so they could look under the car. Decker also said something felt broken under the front of the car. NASCAR didn’t rule Decker’s trip to the garage as a mechanical issue, and she was thus out under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” The team apparently didn’t realize this until Lap 7, when someone said “Yeah, we’re done.” The team was also frustrated with Mills for the initial contact in the chicane. Decker’s tires were then transferred to their teammate, Ryan Sieg.

Decker backing up on pit road
before going to the garage.
PHOTO: Matt Miller, @MGMiller17

Finishing 39th was Riley Herbst, who cut through the tri-oval grass to avoid Austin Cindric and A.J. Allmendinger’s tangle battling for the win in Stage 1. The splitter of Herbst’s #98 Monster Energy Ford dug into the dirt, causing enough damage to knock him out of the race. Last-place starter David Starr took 38th with transmission problems. Ryan Vargas took 37th, returning to action more than 20 laps down after his Alvin Kamara-backed #6 The Big Squeezy Chevrolet stalled exiting the tri-oval. Rounding out the group was Jade Buford, whose first start for Big Machine Records Racing ended when his own #48 Big Machine Vodka Spiked Cooler Chevrolet stalled after 38 laps.

Ty Gibbs’ stunning victory in his XFINITY Series debut was just one of a number of surprising performances. Miguel Paludo, driving JR Motorsports’ #8 Brandt Chevrolet, overcame a flat left-front tire to finish 7th in his first XFINITY Series start since 2012. Brandon Brown took 8th in his #68 Jabs Construction Chevrolet – his first-ever top-ten on a road course. Both Mike Harmon Racing teammates finished 8th and 9th in Stage 1 with Kyle Weatherman taking 16th at the finish in the #47 Picture Perfect Chevrolet. Josh Williams rebounded from spinning into a tire barrier to finish 17th in his #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet. And Kris Wright overcame multiple spins to finish 18th in his XFINITY debut driving Sam Hunt Racing’s #26 F.N.B. Corporation Toyota.

Others came very close to joining this group, Preston Pardus stoved in the nose of his #90 Chinchor Electric / Danus Utilities Chevrolet in the opening laps, but was running 9th with four laps to go when the rear gear failed. Stephen Leicht was holding down 17th in the final stages driving Carl Long’s #61 Jani-King Toyota, only to be collected in an overtime accident to finish 29th. The same incident collected Cody Ware, whose #17 Nurtec ODT Ford was moving from 11th into the Top Ten, only to fall to 25th. Gray Gaulding briefly held the lead through pit strategy, but contact pushed in a fender, and he slipped to 21st in Jimmy Means Racing’s #52 Panini Trading Cards Chevrolet. Andy Lally worked his way up as high as 3rd at one point, but ended up 31st after late-race contact in the #99 Energy Air Chevrolet. And Ryan Sieg inherited the lead in overtime, only to run wide in Turn 1 and drive through the grass, leaving his #39 CMR Construction & Roofing Ford in the 27th spot.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #23 in an XFINITY Series race since July 4, 2014, when Robert Richardson, Jr.’s #23 Cornboard Chevrolet – a backup car – fell out with rear end trouble after 13 laps on the Daytona oval in the Subway Firecracker 250.

40) #23-Natalie Decker / 3 laps / crash
39) #98-Riley Herbst / 15 laps / crash
38) #13-David Starr / 20 laps / transmission
37) #6-Ryan Vargas / 23 laps / running
36) #16-A.J. Allmendinger / 33 laps / suspension

1st) DGM Racing, RSS Racing / Reaume Brothers Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (2)


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